Not that long ago, science and scientists began telling us that having a diversity of microorganisms in our body, and especially our gut, enhances immunity, promotes digestion and offers a whole host of other health benefits. Since that time, those microorganisms--or probiotics--have become a pretty hot commodity on drugstores shelves and in health food shops and stores.
According to a study published by the US National Library of Medicine’s National Institute of Health, the population’s recognition of the relationship between diet and health has bolstered the market for functional foods, or “foods that promote health beyond providing basic nutrition.” The probiotic falls right within this realm.
Because of this, many companies are quickly monetizing the trend by developing over the counter medications, vitamins and supplements, but also by dropping them into everything from kale chips and granola to cold-brew coffees and frozen burritos. The fast-growing probiotics market offers consumers a wealth, and often overwhelming barage, of choices. Global Market Insights reported that the probiotics market size was $36.6 billion (USD) in terms of ingredient sales in 2015 and that the market may grow 7.4 percent (compounded each year) and be worth some $64.6 billion by 2023.
We all know that just because a product is backed by a strong advertising campaign, doesn’t mean it actually is good for us. Before you buy these magic probiotic beans, you should delve deep into the world of probiotics and ask yourself if they’re really for you.
A probiotic is a live microbial food supplement that offers health benefits to individual consumers by improving intestinal microbial balance. More simply stated by WebMD, probiotics are good live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial to your health overall health, especially your digestive system. Probiotics can be found in supplements and some foods, like yogurt, and are often recommended by doctors and physicians to help with improving digestive health.
At the time of this writing, there are no prescription probiotics as most medicinal form probiotics are considered dietary supplements and are available for purchase over the counter, or without a prescription. While a doctor may certainly write a prescription for a supplement or over the counter drug option, it should be considered more a recommendation and the consumer should understand that just because the recommendation is written on a prescription pad, doesn’t mean it will be covered by insurance--as probiotics and other dietary supplements typically are not.
There are several forms of probiotic a consumer could look to purchase aside from a standard capsule. A few of them are outlined below.
There are many foods that naturally contain this helpful bacteria, such as yogurt. Healthline says that “a high-quality, plain yogurt with live cultures” is a great addition to your diet. Additionally, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and some types of unpasteurized pickles and pickled vegetables are excellent options when looking to enhance your probiotic consumption naturally.
Not incredibly different from the capsule form of a probiotic, probiotic powder is, as labeled, a powder. It is easily mixed with your favorite smoothie, cold food or water. Many probiotic brands that offer capsule probiotics also offer powdered probiotics for ease of consumption for those who struggle swallowing pills or don’t want to carry noisy pill bottles with them during the day.
Just like with probiotic supplements in pill or food form, there are liquid probiotics or probiotic drinks available to the consumer. The overall benefits of these liquid probiotics are being able to choose a probiotic drink that meets your specific health, taste or convenience goals. BodyEcology.com recommends trying a range of fermented (probiotic) drinks so you can have a variety of bacteria and yeast populate your intestines and help boost your immunity.
Many of these probiotic drinks and liquid probiotics can also be classified as refrigerated probiotics as outlined next.
According to Consumer Labs, proper refrigeration is critical for many probiotics, both before and after purchase. Many probiotics are naturally sensitive to heat (which kills organisms) and moisture (which activates them before consumption). If you are looking to purchase, or have purchased, a probiotic supplement (in any form) that requires refrigeration, be sure that the retailer and the manufacturer have done that, or that both offer a money-back guarantee. For this reason, a probiotic should also never be placed into a weekly pill holder.
The best time of day to take probiotics depends on the person taking the supplement. Many people are able to obtain the necessary amounts of probiotic through food, so it doesn’t matter what time the food is consumed.
Probiotics are living organisms, that’s why they’re called “live strains,” and like other living organisms, they need food and water to survive and flourish. The best time to take probiotics is alongside a meal so that the food you’re consuming offers a buffer between intestinal and stomach acid and the supplement so that the supplement gets safely through the digestive tract while also nourishing and helping the bacteria strains to grow.
The simplest answer? It varies. The time it takes for probiotics to work varies depending on the specific user and the type of probiotic ingested.
If you are a healthy person who chooses to take higher-quality probiotics that a high CFU count and are constructed in a way that makes them more likely to survive the journey to the stomach (as mentioned above), your supplements could begin working on the very first day of dosage, sometimes even the first hour.
Conversely, if you are a person with any type of medical condition that could interfere with probiotic absorption, you are taking any medications that could interfere with probiotic absorption or you chose a poorly manufactured probiotic with too low a CFU is unlikely to ever reach your gut, so would never really work or produce any sort of therapeutic effect or relief.
The human body hosts upwards of 100 trillion bacteria, so it’s incredibly difficult to have too much probiotics. In fact, according to a Health.com article, healthy adults can consume up to 20 billion CFUs of probiotics from foods or supplements each day. Any adult with a weakened immune system--HIV or cancer patients for example--should talk to a physician before starting probiotics because, in rare instances, probiotics could cause serious infection.
It is important to note that, for some people, a serious probiotic boost can lead to bloating or diarrhea. It’s best to ease into probiotic use, starting small and working your way up to your desired dosage or intake. Anytime your stomach gets upset, cut back a bit.
CFU stands for “colony forming units” and is the abbreviation used to quantify how many bacteria in probiotics are capable of dividing and forming colonies, as Probiotics Guide tells us. This essentially is the number of probiotic bacteria that are alive and active and able to divide in any given food or supplement.
The number of CFUs you need depends on your probiotic needs. If you use probiotics on a daily basis to maintain digestive and immune health, a lower CFU count makes more sense (typically between 5-10 billion is a good range). The higher dosage CFU probiotics are optimal for helping with specific ailments or minor health problems (in these cases 15-45 billion is a good range). Anything much higher than 45 billion isn’t usually necessary unless dealing with IBS, allergies, eczema and some respiratory illnesses, according to Probiotics Guide.
In terms of intestinal support, men and women require basically the same types of probiotics. But as men and women have different bodies and different body composition, there are some instances where they differ with regard to what intestinal issues they may have and what probiotic strains they may require to cure those issues.
While men’s intestinal issues don’t differ that greatly from women’s, probiotics support men in deterring heart disease and increasing bone density.
Men are much more likely to suffer from heart disease than women as a result of high cholesterol. Probiotics help lower cholesterol levels in the blood by producing an acid that tells the liver to make less of it.
Additionally, certain strains of probiotics also have been proven to increase bone density in men, but, surprisingly, not in women.
A Men’s Journal article says, essentially, that the average man can greatly improve his gastrointestinal health by limiting processed foods and eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds (or by taking on a plant-based diet altogether).
If it’s a carnivore’s life for you, when determining the best probiotics for men, you should know the strains included in the supplement, evaluate the delivery and packaging, pay attending to the expiration date on the label and ensure you understand storage directions.
The probiotic benefit just for women is reducing bacteria susceptibility in the delicately balanced reproductive system. The microorganisms that live in the reproductive organs are responsible for functions like balancing the pH level, avoiding infections and killing pathogens. Probiotics are known to support these functions as well as helping to relieve the bloating and constipation that frequently occurs during the menstrual cycle.
For women, the balance of good and bad bacteria can be a delicate one, so they may need to try a couple of different options before determining which one works best for them.
Thus far, the information seems pretty simple, for a healthy gut utilize probiotics, but needs change as you age.
Newborns typically will receive a bacteria strain from breast milk, which could be enhanced if the mother is taking a probiotic. Formula-fed infants can be supplemented with this bacteria.
When a child weans from formula or breast-milk and starts eating solid foods, their gut bacteria would change and some studies have shown that consuming probiotics through food or supplements can positively affect their balance of bacteria.
Children eventually become teenagers and one of the most common problems teens encounter is acne. BabyDotDot reports that acne is often associated with a bacteria (propionibacterium acnes) found in the hair follicles and microbes in the intestinal tract. Many studies have shown a link between gut health and skin health, so it seems natural to assume that if probiotics improve gut health, they will also improve skin health.
This article has extensively explored the use of probiotics for healthy adults (or adults struggling with issues like IBS and constipation or desiring weight loss), so we won’t go back into that here, but it is important to know that probiotics can be incredibly beneficial in late life, too. In fact, Medical News Today says, “If you are over 60, you should take either probiotic drinks, yogurts or capsules” because elderly people have a lower number of friendly bacteria and more harmful bacteria in their intestines than they did when they were younger. The elderly are also more brown to gastrointestinal infections and bowel irritability or conditions. The consistent use of probiotics will help maintain an appropriate balance.
While the use of probiotics can benefit the body in many ways, we are going to look at three of the most common: probiotics for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), probiotics for constipation and probiotics for weight loss.
IBS is an incredibly common intestinal disorder that involves symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. IBS is incredibly difficult to treat because no single remedy works for every person the syndrome ails. Some studies do suggest that probiotic supplements can help alleviate some IBS symptoms and many doctors and gastroenterologists are comfortable recommending probiotic supplements to patients because they’re unlikely to cause more harm or discomfort than the patient is already feeling.
However with so many probiotic options on the market, it can be difficult for the average consumer to know where to turn. Whichever product you choose, it’s important to be sure that what to you choose contains live strains of bacteria.
Some limited evidence reported by Very Well Health shows that there are two strains of probiotics effective in easing IBS symptoms:
Lactobacillus strains (such as L.acidophilus, L. plantarum and L. rhamnosus)
Bifidobacterium strains (such as B. infantis, B. longum and B. bifidum)
Researchers at King’s College in London looked at 14 studies that studied the use of probiotics as a relief for constipation. In the studies, people suffering from constipation were randomly assigned Probiotics or a placebo.
The results published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found, on average, probiotics slowed what the study called “gut transit time” by 12.4 hours, increased the number of weekly bowel movements by 1.3 and helped soften stools. Specifically, it found that probiotics containing Bifidobacterium were most effective. While there were some limitations to the study and some concern for bias, the overall finding was that probiotics were helpful in relieving constipation by softening stools and helping the user “go” more frequently.
According to the above study, there isn’t enough evidence to recommend a specific probiotic for constipation, but here are a few to try:
Several studies have been done that have found that normal-weight people have different gut bacteria than overweight or obese people and that the use or presence of probiotics may play a role in weight regulation.
HealthLine surmises that probiotics may reduce the volume of calories you absorb from food, affect hormones and proteins related to appetite and fat storage, and may reduce inflammation (a factor in driving obesity). Some studies have also shown that certain probiotic strains can help reduce belly fat, reduce weight and prevent weight gain on a high-calorie diet.
However, it is important to note that not all probiotics are beneficial in weight loss and that some may even cause the user to gain weight. The effects depend highly on the probiotic strain present in the supplement and in the person taking the supplement.
While probiotics may be somewhat helpful in regulation of weight gain and may even aid in some weight loss and satiety of food, probiotics are not a fool-proof way to maintain weight, they are just one part of the overall picture. Here are a few of the best probiotic for weight loss supplements to try if probiotic weight loss is your overall goal:
Prebiotics are different from probiotics, though both are important for human health, prebiotics are types of fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in the digestive system, whereas probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. This gut bacteria helps with a variety of biological tasks (like regulating inflammation and protect you from bacteria and fungi) and provide important nutrients to the cells lining the digestive tract.
Many foods contain prebiotics (or prebiotic fiber) naturally. These include: legumes, beans, peas, oats, bananas, berries, asparagus, dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, baked wheat flour, raw wheat bran and onions. These foods are the best prebiotics supplements, though there are prebiotic fiber supplements available for retail purchase.
In order to get the full effects of prebiotics, you should consume at least five grams of prebiotic-dense foods per day.
Generally, probiotics and prebiotics are seen as a great preventative health care options and as previously stated, probiotic/prebiotic foods and supplements are generally thought to be safe and provide health benefits for most people. But, there are no perfect probiotics. Probiotics/Prebiotics are not regulated like drugs and do not require FDA approval before being marketed nor go through the same rigorous testing for safety and effectiveness that prescription drugs do. Mild side effects are possible. Some people with weakened immune systems or other serious health problems probably shouldn’t take them. Additionally, in some cases there are some mild side effects of use that might include: upset stomach, diarrhea, gas or bloating and allergic reactions.
Additionally, it is important to pay attention to expiration date and storage instructions and read product labels carefully. Be aware that some supplements can be pricey and you should select them based on your personal health needs.
Finally, as with any medication or supplement, you should ask your doctor if taking probiotics is a good idea for you. If any problems arise from your use of probiotic problems, stop taking them and speak with a doctor or physician about making adjustments.